x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Crippen swim death prompts call for reforms

The Fina swimming organisation yesterday criticised the safety measures that were in place when racer Fran Crippen died.

Olympic swimmer Fran Crippen, who died while competing in a marathon last October.
Olympic swimmer Fran Crippen, who died while competing in a marathon last October.

FUJAIRAH //The rules governing the race in which Olympic swimmer Fran Crippen died were "inadequately fulfilled", according to a report released yesterday by Fina, the international governing body on swimming.

The report, led by Gunnar Werner, a former Fina vice president, called for immediate reforms in the sport of open water swimming.

Crippen, a six-time US national champion, died at the end of a 10-kilometre Fina open water marathon in October last year. It was the first death at a Fina event. Three other athletes were hospitalised.

As messages were left on Crippen's Facebook page yesterday to mark what would have been his 27th birthday, the report said it was "unlikely", though not impossible, that exercise-induced asthma contributed to his "progressive incapacitation". The report stated: "It is the opinion of the Task Force that there is an urgent need for an organisational commitment to athlete safety as a top priority, and to update and amend the Rules and Regulations of Open Water Swimming to keep up with the sport as it moves forward as an Olympic sport."

Dozens of rules were not followed in the race, including the lack of a certificate of suitability by local health and safety authorities, the lack of liability insurance and the absence of a medical officer at the event, according to the report. It also showed several inconsistencies between the statements of UAE race organisers, the Fina technical delegate and other participants.

For example, the secretary general of the UAE Swimming Federation said there were 10 swimming-trained lifeguards and seven jet skis available, but the federation's executive director, Ayman Saad, said there were eight swimming-trained lifeguards and five jet skis.

In fact, only four jet skis were available and just one was used to constantly monitor swimmers, the report said. There were two lifeguard stations, not three as initially indicated, according to the report.

Mr Saad said yesterday he would comment on the report once he had had the chance to read it.

The report also said that lifeguards did not have equipment or binoculars, making it impossible for them to supervise swimmers properly. Jet skis were not equipped for rescue, as required, and no jet ski was constantly available at each lifeguard station.

The venue was changed from Sharjah to Fujairah a few days before the race by the UAE Swimming Federation. Fina was informed of the change by e-mail less than 48 hours before the event, and never sent confirmation of its approval. Fina requires that venues are approved four months in advance. Race organisers had less than 24 hours to set up at a new location.

"Taking all of this into consideration, the Task Force believes that there was an inherent lack of preparation and significance placed on the safety aspects required at the Fujairah Event," the report stated.

It was not only UAE Swimming Federation officials who were called to account. The task force also found that the Fina technical delegate showed a lack of leadership in the search for Crippen's body, which lasted two hours. He reported that divers were sent out for the body at 12.25pm, but swimmers and coaches said the divers did not arrive until at least an hour later.

Furthermore, the report noted that no action had been taken to amend safety concerns reported by Fina members at the 2009 UAE open water event. Sam Greetham, a member of the Technical Open Water Swimming Committee, had warned that there were insufficient qualified officials, insufficient boats for swimmers, and that no safety officer had been appointed. These problems repeated themselves in Fujairah when Crippen died, according to the report.

The task force also called for an review of Fina's open water guidelines. The report concludes with recommendations for minimum safety requirements at open water events, including minimum lifeguard qualifications and specifications for escort and safety boats.

The task force also found that water temperature probably exceeded the 29°C claimed by the UAE Swimming Federation and Fina technical delegate. Water temperatures were 30°C at 11am on the day Crippen raced in Fujairah, and reached 31°C near its finish at 11.45am, according to measurements by Fina. US swimming recommendations say that no race of more than 5km should take place if the water temperature exceeds 31°C.

The Fina report follows criticism of the organisation's failure to co-operate with a an investigation by USA Swimming into Crippen's death led by Richard Pound, the former International Olympic Committee vice president. That report was released on Wednesday.

Crippen's coach, Richard Shoulberg, told the Associated Press that he would fight until safety recommendations were implemented.

"I think Fina realised after listening to Dick Pound's comments about not co-operating and everyone saying it was giving Fina a big black eye, they came to the realisation that they had better speak up," he said. "I'm so happy that they did speak up.

"We want safety in open water."

 

azacharias@thenational.ae